Changing careers is tough at the best of times, but when you’re switching tracks to start a new business, that presents a whole different set of challenges.
While that may seem intimidating, the rewards can be immense. HuffPost UK spoke to four women who did exactly that.
Liz Johnson, 32, is Managing Director and Co-Founder of The Ability People. She used to be a gold medallist Paralympic swimmer for twenty years, retiring in 2016.
What made you want to start your business?
“The disability employment gap stands at 30% and I’ve seen the reality of this statistic. People fixate on what those with disabilities can’t do and forget how resourceful and capable we can be. I wanted to start a business that would challenge these negative stereotypes and make a change in society.
“The Ability People (TAP) is a recruitment consultancy, staffed entirely by people living with disabilities. Our recruitment consultants don’t differentiate, however, and place both able-bodied and disabled job-seekers in positions - whoever is best suited to the role.”
What were the first steps?
“An important part of our business was actually choosing our first group of consultants as they were to be the core team who would show the world that our idea could work.
“The most challenging part of starting TAP has been facing false assumptions about the new business. Sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously and make people realise we’re not a gimmick.”
How did being a Paralympian help?
It takes a lot of mental strength and drive to set up your own business, convincing potential clients and partners that your venture has what it takes. Teamwork and being personable in recruitment is, of course, vital and that’s a fundamental part of being a successful athlete.
Galyna Nitsetska, 28, is CEO and founder of Empress Mimi Lingerie. She used to work as a private banker in Russia.
What made you want to start your business?
“I saw that every person who had made it big had taken massive risks and not necessarily followed the traditional path I had been taught to follow from a young age. What really inspired me was meeting the amazing women I had as clients.
“So I scraped up the little savings that I had and put it all behind my idea. Aged 25, I quit my job, and with zero outside investment, took the plunge to start Empress Mimi lingerie from my kitchen table.”
Why a lingerie business?
“I noticed a gap in the market for lingerie that is comfortable, affordable and beautiful. And secondly, it really bothered me that most of the existing companies in the field were owned and operated by men - and the consequences of that showed up in both the product quality and marketing materials.
“It just seemed unacceptable to me that we all want to throw off our bras the moment we come home, I really felt this field was ripe for innovation and disruption and I wanted to bring lingerie to the market in which women could feel comfortable in all day and that wouldn’t have any negative health repercussions.
“Also, being single at the time, I wanted to create that kind of experience for other single women without the eye-watering price-tag.”
How did you fund it?
The business is mostly self-funded to this day (with a little help from my friends and family). Initial seed money came from my own savings, so I was very careful about how I spent my money. I built my own website, and most of the finances were spent on getting the best product I could afford.”
“I had expected that moving away from the male-dominated industry of banking to the fashion world would eliminate some of the unpleasant experiences I’d previously had, but as it turns out, there are still men out there who will not respect you no matter what you do.
“It can also feel like a very lonely path being the final decision maker and the feeling of responsibility for your company and team can at times feel heavy.
“At the start, I would get upset if I did not reach some target I had set myself, but over time I learned that progress is made by treating it as a marathon not a race - sometimes you just need to keep going and the path will show itself in due time.”
What advice would you give yourself if you had to do it all over again?
Put yourself out there, be you, and don’t hold back. The most rewarding is being able to come up with something that you think will bring beauty and joy to people, and then actually see it come to fruition.
Also 90% of the advice given to you by others is just that - advice, not some scripture. Each one of us is unique and has something special to offer the world, listen to that voice inside to know what that is.
Ruth Chubb, 39, is founder of Three Bears Cookery Club, but used to work as an Avon Area Sales Manager.
What is your business?
“We run cookery clubs and birthday parties for children, and our clubs are run in primary schools as after school clubs. We have also started some adult classes.”
What made you want to start your own?
“I’ve wanted to start my own business for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a passion for baking and cooking – my Mum used to cook with me when I was a child. As well as creating those memories it is so important to learn how to cook and bake and that is why I decided to start the business.
“I came up with the idea after having my second child, as at the time our kitchen was rather small and trying to bake with my children was rather difficult. I remember looking around for activities and wondered why there wasn’t a children’s cookery club.
“It wasn’t until a good few years later after having my third child, I decided to give up the daily grind of sales and start the business. I really wanted to spend some time with my youngest before she started school and this was the perfect solution.”
What were the first steps?
“My first thing to do was to work out whether this could actually work, what would the business look like, what I needed and would it be profitable. After planning this out I then used extra money in my wages while at Avon to start buying the bakeware for the business.
“My previous careers in learning and development and sales helped me enormously to pitching the clubs at the right level, using my social media marketing skills to promote the business with also knowing how to sell.”
“Getting used to money coming in highs and lows and working out what those are and planning finances through the quieter times. I’ve learned to change things about the business as soon as they are not working and not to be scared of doing so. I have a lot of plans including developing the adult classes and eventually franchising the business.”
Adiba Osmani, 40, is the Founder and Managing Director of Inhere meditation studio. She previously worked as a brand and marketing consultant
What made you want to open a meditation studio?
“First, I whole-heartedly believe in what meditation can bring to a person’s life. Second, there was no other drop-in meditation studio in London in early 2017 – mine was the first. People are now learning meditation for many reasons, be it to reduce stress or counter depression.”
What were the first steps you had to take?
“The first step was to start creating the product. I didn’t know if I would be able to afford a site in central London to launch a studio, but I started shaping how the product would look, developing meditations for a modern audience, and then creating a brand around it. So when I got a call about a site that I could afford with my budget, I was ready.”
Did you have transferrable skills from your previous career?
“Absolutely. I was effectively a take-to-market consultant for new ideas. So from shaping what exactly my business would offer, developing the pricing, positioning, and promotions around it, to planning and executing every part of the launch, my brand and marketing experience was very relevant.”
What have you learned from the whole process?
“As a founder you have to (and want to) do everything, so the most challenging part was having to switch my mental mode from a creative one where I was writing, recording and mixing meditations one day, to the operational focus of running, managing and growing the business the next. I practice meditation every day, but it’s still not always easy to change mindset on demand.
“The most rewarding part, of course, is when people who have never experienced something like this come into the studio and then keep coming back because of how good they feel as soon as they walk in.
“The only advice I would give myself in hindsight is to start building up a customer base as soon as possible. This means that by the time I commit to a physical site and open its doors, I already have a customer base interested rather than having to start from scratch.”